Monday, February 20, 2012

Google Wallet Shutdown Highlights Vulnerability of a Cashless Society

Brandon Turbeville
Activist Post
February 18, 2012

In a telling incident, Google has recently been attempting to reassure its customers that its Google Wallet app is actually a safe and secure method of transaction.

This damage control attempt comes on the heels of a shutdown of the program initiated by Google due to a possible security vulnerability.

According to a story published in RAW Story entitled “Google tightens grip on smartphone wallets
,” a researcher at Zvelo Labs “demonstrated software that quickly figures out a Wallet personal identification number (PIN), provided the crook has the smartphone.”

The article explains that the researcher dismisses the idea of remotely hacking the smartphone, and claims that one would need physical contact with the phone in order to gain access to the private data. However, this attitude seems a bit naïve considering the fact that technology is readily available on the market which allows for remote hacking of devices
such as RFID chips, a type of technology routinely employed by both governments and businesses the world over.

Google Wallet apps are no doubt just another step in the direction of a cashless society. As I wrote in my article, “NJ Transit Ushers In Cashless Society With Google Wallet App For Smartphone Payment,”

In 2011, however, after generations of Americans have been raised to view privacy as outdated and prudish, the idea of a cashless society apparently doesn’t seem so scary. In fact, to many, it actually sounds like a good idea.

It is an unfortunate fact that, to the vast majority, the downside of going cashless will likely never occur to them until it is too late. A product of constant exposure to television and a systematic dumbing-down of each generation’s education has produced a population who will no doubt be drawn to the new smartphones cashless system as the proverbial moth is drawn to the flame – and with similar results.

Obviously, in a society whose citizens are able to carry and make transactions with cash, there is still some semblance of anonymity available to them. There is still the opportunity to purchase staples such as food and water (via third parties if necessary) even if a system of exclusivity were to be introduced and certain people were prohibited from making purchases directly.

In a cashless system, however, an enormous amount of trust is placed in the hands of the government agencies, banks, and corporations that would then control the money for the “convenience” of the unwitting soul who has sacrificed his own personal responsibility and control for the luxury of his convenience. If even one of these institutions decide, for whatever reason, that the account of the user should be frozen, disconnected, or discontinued, the ability to purchase the basic necessities will disappear. That is, it will disappear if there is no longer the option of cash.

Regardless of the vulnerabilities of the Google Wallet app to average run-of-the-mill hackers, the real story is who has control of the system now.

Indeed, the real story is that Google has unwittingly demonstrated a small but significant aspect of what many, including myself, have been talking about for some time – that a cashless system can easily be shut down remotely, leaving the user on his own, which, if he has entrusted all his money to his interactive device, card, or bank account, might very well be a lonely place.

Obviously, the ability to remotely close accounts and shut down services at the push of a button are certainly not secret.

After all, as USA Today stated, “Phones (and apps) can be password protected. Security elements are built into the NFC chips. It’s easy to remotely shut down a digital wallet if necessary.”  

When all financial transactions eventually become digital, it is only a matter of time before banks, corporations, and governments begin to force citizens to bend to their will with the threat of cutting off accounts as punishment for resistance or refusal.

This is precisely why we need both resistance and refusal now, before it is too late.

Read other articles by Brandon Turbeville here

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